FRANKFORT — The Kentucky House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed new legislative district lines that would create four new House districts and pair eight incumbents in four other districts.
The plan now heads to the Senate, which will attach its newly-drawn Senate districts to House Bill 1. Republican Senate leaders have said they believe they will have near unanimous support for the new Senate legislative district lines.
Leaders hope to pass both maps by Friday, the fifth day of a special legislative session that costs $60,000 a day.
House Bill 1 cleared the House 83-17 after more than an hour of debate. This is the third time the Democratic-controlled House has passed a redistricting plan. The 2012 redistricting plan was found unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court. The House passed another redistricting plan during the 2013 General Assembly but the plan was never passed by the Republican-controlled Senate.
During debate on the floor, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the plan was fair. It splits 24 counties into multiple districts, the minimum number allowed.
Eight incumbents — four Republicans and four Democrats — were pitted against another incumbent in the plan. The 2012 map, in contrast, pitted nine incumbents against another incumbent, including eight Republicans and one Democrat.
House Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, the second most powerful Democrat in the House, was removed from his home district and pitted against another Democrat in the plan approved Wednesday, Stumbo noted.
"It's an attempt to be fair. It's not meant to punish anyone," Stumbo said.
House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said the plan was much improved from previous maps but he still had serious concerns that will likely be part of an ongoing federal court case.
Hoover said the plan creates 76 districts where the majority of voters are Democrats and 24 districts where the majority of voters are Republicans. Many of those Republican-majority districts have more voters than Democratic-majority districts.
Similar issues were raised in a redistricting case in Georgia that was later overturned, Hoover said.
Stumbo said the House is required to split the minimum number of counties possible and at the same time stay within the ideal population of about 43,000 per district. Putting higher numbers of people in some Republican-leaning districts was not done to gain a political advantage, Stumbo said.
Many lawmakers spoke against the plan because of the way it treated certain high-growth areas.
Rep. Rita Smart, D-Richmond, objected to having Madison County split into five different districts.
"We are being punished" for growing quickly, Smart said of Madison County.
Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown, also lamented that Hardin County has been split into six districts. More than 60,000 of the more than 100,000 people in Hardin County will probably be represented by someone who does not live in the county, Lee said.
Rep. Ryan Quarles, R-Georgetown, said fast-growing Scott County will suffer from being carved into three districts.
"How is it fair to cannibalize Georgetown?" Quarles said.
Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, said he voted against HB 1 because Fayette County, which has six districts entirely within the county, did not receive a seventh House district. Instead, more of Fayette County will be represented by someone who lives in a different county, he said.
Smart and Rep. Jimmie Lee were the only Democrats to vote against the plan.
Hoover also said during debate Wednesday that he doesn't believe that the Democrats who were paired in the same districts will run against each other in 2014.
The plan passed Wednesday pairs Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, and Rep. Kevin Sinnette, D-Ashland, in the 100th House District, which is in Boyd County. It also combines Democrats Rep. John Will Stacy, D-West Liberty, and Rep. Hubert Collins, D-Wittensville, in the 97th House District, which includes Morgan and Wolfe counties.
Adkins has said he may move to an open seat. Stacy and Collins have both said they will run in May 2014.
Republicans paired in the plan are Rep. Myron Dossett, R-Pembroke, and Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville, in the 9th House District, which includes Christian and Hopkins counties, and Rep. C.B. Embry, R-Morgantown, and Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, in the 17th House District.
House and Senate leaders are under the gun to pass a legislative redistricting plan. Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union and a group of Northern Kentucky residents sued the state for failing to redraw the districts nearly three years after the 2010 census.
If the legislature doesn't deliver a constitutional redistricting plan to federal court in coming days, a three-judge panel will redraw Kentucky's legislative boundaries.
The panel ruled last week that the legislature could not use district boundaries drawn in 2002 for any future elections. Stumbo had asked the court to amend its order so that special elections held before November 2014 could use the old boundary lines.
The court refused Wednesday to alter its previous order. The panel did not make clear what would happen if a special election is called.